Drone mows down 28 in S. Waziristan

15 Feb 2009

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WANA, Feb 14: Two missile strikes on a site suspected to be housing militants loyal to Baitullah Mehsud killed 28 people and injured 15 others in Ladha sub-division of South Waziristan on Saturday.

Official and local sources said that a missile strike by drones flattened a ‘hujra’ (guest house) of Roshan Mehsud, an associate of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud, in Showngai Naserkhel area. The compound was situated in an isolated area.

Residents said that three unmanned aerial vehicles were hovering over the area when two loud explosions were heard at about 8.30am.

This is the third and the deadliest drone strike in the tribal region near the Afghan border since US President Barack Obama assumed power on Jan 20.

The region is considered to be a safe haven of local and foreign militants and suspected drones have carried out five attacks in North and South Waziristan since Jan 1.

Local Taliban sources told Dawn by phone that 28 people, including Arabs, Uzbeks and Afghans, were killed. Condition of 10 wounded persons was stated to be serious. A child passing the compound was also injured.

The Taliban earlier claimed that a seminary had been targeted. They said that three weeks ago over 60 foreign militants had assembled in the premises.

According to locals, militants rescued 15 wounded comrades from the debris and took them to a private hospital in Makeen, 15km east of Showngai.

The Taliban have established health facilities in the area for treating wounds suffered in drone strikes and clashes.

The sources said that the compound had earlier served as a seminary. Later it was handed over to Uzbek militants. The area is under the diktat of Baitullah Mehsud.

After the missile strike, the Taliban encircled the compound and started rescue operation.

Eight of the dead were buried in Ladha and the others in Makeen. Many bodies were beyond recognition.

A remotely-piloted aircraft hovered continually over North Waziristan on Saturday.

Soon after the missile strike, militants captured three alleged spies and took them to an unknown location.

The sources said that one alleged spy belonged to the Mehsud tribe and two to the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe. One of them was identified as Mohammad.

AP adds: Intelligence officials said the victims included about 15 ethnic Uzbek militants and several Afghans.

Two of the officials said followers of Baitullah Mehsud were in residence in the compound that was hit.

The accounts of Saturday’s incident could not be verified independently. The tribally governed region is unsafe for reporters.